‘The past is what you remember’ is for me the most striking line of Harold Pinter’s Old Times, which was first performed on 1st June 1971 by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre in London. The line suggests a salient surrealism amongst the apparent realism of the play.
The play opens onto a sparse set of blueberry ripple sofas and chair, and a Carrollian mirror – surreal seventies suburbia – through which the audience glimpse the sinister calm; ubiquitous in Pinter’s work.
Kate (Rebecca Todd) and husband Deeley (Liam Smith) sit on the sofa and chair whilst Kate’s old friend Anna (Katie Hayes), as yet ‘unseen’, stands looking through the window; that seasoned literary symbol of freedom.
Kate and Deeley are discussing the impending visit of Anna, the friend she has not seen in 20 years. Kate, stoical and surprised about Deeley’s visit, fuels Deeley’s interest. Upon Anna’s arrival we learn much about Kate’s former life. The self-assured Anne, in speaking of the past and allowing us to compare it with the present, shows us that Kate is very changed, that she has lost herself, her interests, and her individuality.
Is Anna real, or is she a projection of Kate’s repressed personality? Were they always one and the same person? Is Kate an unreliable narrator, showing us the action through her eyes?
This was an excellent performance, well directed by Mary Papadima, who’s studio productions seldom fail to please. A tight cast, strengthened by Katie Hayes wonderful portrayal of Anna, enhances the play still further.
If the performance was in any way flawed, it was perhaps by Liam Smith’s occasional stumbling over lines and his encroachment into caricature with his interpretation of Deeley.
I left this play thinking of how our memory rewrites the past, but I feel confident that this will be remembered as a discerning and enticing performance of a modern classic.